ACLU, Lawyers Group Sue Cali Police Department Over $3,000 Fee Demand For Body Cam Footage

from the fingers-crossed-for-a-fee-shift dept

Once again, a government agency is attempting to price itself out of the public records market. The Hayward (CA) police department told the National Lawyers Guild that it needed to come up with $3,000 before it would turn over requested body camera footage.

In response to this gouging, the ACLU, in conjunction with the NLG, has opened up its wallet legal fund.

The suit alleges that, on Jan. 27, 2015, the NLG, San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, submitted a PRA request to Hayward PD for body worn camera footage from Hayward police officers who participated in crowd control during demonstrations in December 2014 to protest the refusal of grand juries to indict police officers involved in the deaths of two African American men, Michael Brown and Eric Garner. A number of protestors were injured by the police during these demonstrations. On May 15, 2015, Hayward PD informed the NLG that they would have to pay the department $2,938.58 in order to receive the first round of body camera footage requested. The NLG paid this amount under protest, and faces similar cost bills for the additional video footage requested.

The ACLU points out that the PD’s demand for nearly $3,000 in fees violates several parts of California’s public records law.

Information that is in an electronic format must be made available in an electronic format when requested by any person and, when applicable, must comply with the following: (1) The agency shall make the information available in any electronic format in which it holds the information. (2) The agency shall provide a copy of the electronic record in the format requested if the requested format is one that has been used by the agency to create copies for its own use or for provision to other agencies.

The cost of duplication shall be limited to the direct cost of producing a copy of a record in an electronic format. Gov. Code § 6253.9(a).

An agency is only permitted to impose additional charges when the request would require data compilation, extraction, or programming to produce the record. Gov. Code § 6253.9(b).

The body camera video requested do not require compilation, extraction or programming.

Respondents have failed to make the records “promptly available” as required by Government Code § 6253(b).

Respondents require payment of unauthorized and excessive charges for the duplication and production of police body camera and hand held videos as a condition of producing such records to members of the public.

Furthermore, the ACLU notes that a failure to rein in the PD’s demands for excessive fees will not only dissuade others from exercising their right to examine public records, but encourage the department to continue levying unlawful fees.

I do think the PD can legitimately argue some form of compilation and extraction has been performed to isolate the video footage requested, but it offered no explanation for the amount it charged for processing, much less what steps it took that resulted in this unknown number of billable hours.

Using fees to stymie requesters is one of the easiest ways for government agencies to maintain the opacity they’re used to operating under. Even when the demand for excessive fees is accompanied by an explanation of the “costs” the agency is looking to recoup, the breakdowns seem to raise just as many questions as they answer. Whether it’s the insistence on charging page duplication fees for responses served electronically, or somehow claiming a record system is impervious to existing search methods, the government still holds most of the cards when it comes to keeping the public separated from public records.

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Companies: aclu, national lawyers guild

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Comments on “ACLU, Lawyers Group Sue Cali Police Department Over $3,000 Fee Demand For Body Cam Footage”

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21 Comments
DontThinkSo says:

Re: Not to take the police side

In this particular case, I do not believe ‘bluring’ video would apply, since all of its in public view and those in the video would be involved in the case. Transcoding is only needed if the video is using a proprietary format that has no public decoder. I would assume the Police will suggest it cost a lot of money to use 3rd party storage service which are overly expensive.

IF they were interested in what’s best for the public and they were not skewed towards covering their own skin, it would really only cost about $.75 cents. i.e. the cost of the PC’s power and the media cost of one DVD-R from a 10 DVD-R pack from Walmart.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Not to take the police side

In this particular case, I do not believe ‘bluring’ video would apply, since all of its in public view and those in the video would be involved in the case.

Neither of those assertions are necessarily true. Police enter private places all the time (do they turn off body cameras when they do? I hope not) and cameras capture the faces of bystanders who are not involved with any police action.

Geno0wl (profile) says:

Re: Not to take the police side

As a person looking to help buy a body cam systems. The transcoding issue SHOULD be a non-issue. Any system we have looked at has a built in “export” feature for requests to media.
The blurring issue MAY be a thing, because difference systems drastically varied in their feature set. Some offered literally nothing while others were smart enough to do “marking and follow” a face/object. So it could take some good man power to edit a 30 minute video to blur things. That is of course assuming the video isn’t out in public where that isn’t an issue anyway.

tqk (profile) says:

I do think the PD can legitimately argue some form of compilation and extraction has been performed to isolate the video footage requested …

Nowadays that ought to be a fairly simple “cat $blah > /dev/cdrom0” (I simplify 🙂 sort of thing one guy with access to the data and the right video processing software could do.

Or have I missed something basic?

Anonymous Coward says:

Hayward police are corrupt, should all be fired

Several years ago, someone stole my wife’s credit card. We tracked down who it was to a person in Hayward. San Francisco PD were also notified but we were told Hayward would not talk to them, so we called Hayward PD ourselves, who refused to do anything, would not even take a police report.

SFPD was pretty outraged, so they setup a sting operation for the next time this thief was in SF – she was working tech conferences taking on-site payments, so it wasn’t long before she was in SF. My wife was asked to go identify the person in question.

As it turns out, the person in question was related to (and being protected by) a high-level Hayward PD officer…. Needless to say, the cops in SF were very, very frustrated. I later heard that several hundred thousand dollars had been stolen and several people from the conf. org were fired.

So, Hayward PD, basically rotten from the head. Should all be fired. Fuck them.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Hayward police are corrupt, should all be fired

Sadly, standard fare. Known baddies are just left alone, like in your story. I’ve got two:

1) Cops show up at 3AM at my place in Mountain View, ask me if I’ve authorized somebody to use my credit card at a hotel. No. Well, a guy with a sheet of paper, and all my details on it with CC number was just caught climbing into a school window. Nope, not my friend. He goes to jail on the B&E. My credit card company confirms $9,000 worth of fake charges on the card. I ask, do you want to catch the crook? He’s in jail right now, I have his police report #. Nope. Thanks, we’ll just write it off (and charge it back to the merchants and our customers in the form of fees).

2) My father in law has his motorcycle stolen in Berkeley. He files police report and insurance claim. A week later, he sees the bike parked in front of a house. He parks and calls the cops “I’m looking at my stolen motorbike, you guys gotta come down here and catch the guy.” They say nope, they’re too busy.

What? Too busy hassling protesters, issuing speeding tickets, and hassling low-income blacks? Seems there is precious little interest in catching actual bad guys. I just don’t understand it.

Meanwhile, I get nervous around police – will they give me a ticket for some trivial thing? A rolling stop? If you’re poor or black, it’s surely much worse.

Yes, I know I'm commenting anonymously says:

Well, since the PD is not allowed to print it out and release the footage as a flip-book…

Joking aside, perhaps it is time to modify the law in such a way that at least some thought has to be given to justifying the payment for the FOIA release. I’ll accept that it won relate to the actual resources spent but, in the long term, it’ll also provide a downward ratchett for the costs.

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